Constitution Day – September 17th
After spending 17 days in the Orange County Jail for violating Orlando’s Large Group Feeding Law I returned to my swamped email account to discover Ad-busters net me an announcement to “Occupy Wall Street.” on September 17th. Before the city started their arrests of our volunteers at Lake Eola Park we had been helping Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and other activists organize the Occupation of Freedom Plaza on the tenth anniversary of the U.S invasion of Afghanistan. We had posted an announcement on our Food Not Bombs website months before the Orlando arrests. They had already contributed $500 for rice.
On December 17, 2010 twenty-six year old produce vender Mohammed Bouazizi douses himself in paint thinner and sets himself on fire in front of a local municipal office in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia literally sparking a nationwide uprising forcing their dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Al from office on January 14, 2011. Egyptians were insipid by events in Tunisia and after an 18 day occupation of Tahrir Square dictator Mubarak stepped down. As we were preparing to resist Orlando’s law imitating the sharing of meals and information to two times a year per park the 15-M Movement was starting to occupy plazas in over 50 Spanish cities on May 15, 2011. The Orlando police make their first arrests attempting to silence our twice weekly meal and information table on June 1, 2011 minutes before we were about to march to city hall to start our occupation against the criminalization of poverty.
We had chosen to set up occupations on the first of every month in solidarity with the Strategy-31 movement in Russia that had chosen to protest on the 31st of the month to honor Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also guarantees freedom of assembly and free speech.
The struggle to bring dignity and rights has always been challenging. My great great grandfather’s grand father Dr James McHenry was the seventh delegate to sign the U.S. Constitution at Independence Hall in the colonial port of Philadelphia on September 17, 1787 that we now celebrate as Constitution Day. Dr. McHenry immigrated from Dublin, Ireland seeking to studying under Doctor Benjamin Rush but not long after arriving in the colonies McHenry was asked to travel to Cambridge Port in the Massachusetts colony. There had been a battle between the colonists and the King’s forces in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. More battles were expected so McHenry wrote our his will and rode north from Philadelphia to organize a field hospital. On June 17, 1775 the King’s Red Coats clashed with the colonists in what has become the Battle of Bunker Hill. McHenry helped direct the medical care of nearly 450 wounded colonists. Sadly 140 Minute Men died of their injuries. The Red Coats suffered 226 dead and 828 wounded. George Washington arrived to command the just formed Continental Army meeting the young doctor at the field hospital on the banks of the Charles River. Washington and McHenry became friends soon after the Battle of Bunker Hill and worked together throughout the War for Independence, participated with the Continental Congress signing the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. McHenry continued the friendship after the formation of the Federation joining Washington’s cabinet as Secretary of War.
This Constitution Day we might want to reflect on the startling pace with which the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution have become little more than a memory.
Years before Snowden inspired the current national dialog about the erosion of our Constitutional rights many of us were shocked at President Obama’s support of many policies that turned the ideas of the founders upside down. Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) late on New Years Eve 2011. The new law makes it legal for the military to pick up any American even on American soil and detain them without trial until the end of the War On Terror. This law claims that the United States it self is in the theater of the War On Terror. After 9/11 a radical change in policing was introduced called the United States Northern Command that directs the Consequence Management Response Force from its base in in Colorado Springs and is charged with joining civilian law enforcement in investigating community activists in the United States. Reports claim the military is prepared to use force against civil unrest suggesting that they may be needed in the event of an economic crisis. A nonviolent movement like Occupy might if it is able to encourage enough Americans to demand their Constitutional rights could be a target of the U.S. Army’s Consequence Management Response Force.
Very few Senators or Congress People voted against this law. There is also a question about Obama’s “Kill List” that includes Americans. Three U.S. citizens have already been killed and were on this list. Anwar Al-Awlaki, his 16 year old son Abdurrrahman Al awlaki and Samir Khan. A secret Presidential panel has drafted and continues to update this list. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told an audience at Northwestern in Chicago that ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.” A month before the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, did told a Yale Law School audience that “it was notable for the nation’s top law enforcement official to declare that it is constitutional for the government to kill citizens without any judicial review under certain circumstances.”
Occupy Wall Street organized against the passage of the NDAA as we experienced a nationwide assault on our legal nonviolent protest. What we did not know until a document obtained from Houston FBI office in December 2012 as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Washington, Partnership for Civil Justice Fund noted on page 61 that some one had wanted to “formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.” Even though the police stopped and questioned me eight times during Occupy and arrested me once on a 1983 warrant for taping a flyer against the war on El Salvador on a light pole in Cambridge not one officer told me I that I could be killed “via suppressed sniper rifles.”
This week Food Not Bombs volunteers are facing new trouble with the authorities. Over 50 cities have passed laws banning or limiting the sharing of free meals in public. This week I received a call from our volunteers in Santa Monica asking for support. News has leaked that the police want the group to stop providing meals to the hungry. Authorities suggest that the group may need an environmental health permit but as we learned during ten years of arrests in San Francisco the law is clear, people sharing food with the hungry as a gift are not required to have a permit from the health department. Such permits are reserved for companies that could profit from ignoring food safety issues.
The effort to close Santa Monica Food Not Bombs follows news that the on September 12th the Suffolk County police on Long Island arrived to the meal threatened our volunteers with arrest if they returned for next weeks Food Sharing. The police stated that complaints were made, but did not elaborate on what those complaints were nor offer any option to our community besides ending our weekly Farmingville Food Share.
Reports of efforts by the authorities to silence Food Not Bombs have become routine since the police violently crushed the Occupation movement. In April 2009 a U.S. State Department official gave a lecture comparing Food Not Bombs to Al-Qaeda making the point that our message which should be considered Constitutionally protected speech was a greater threat to national security than suicide bombers.
On September 17, 2013 American’s are dizzy from revelations of massive spying. SInce Snowden shared news about the Fourth Amendment violations of National Security Agency the public has learned that the government is able to monitor nearly every aspect of our personal lives. Our license plates are video taped as we travel through our community with the time, date and location of our movements converted into a computer loge for local, state and federal officials to review. All phone calls, every email and web visit is also logged as is all of our snail mail.
While these and other programs are clear violations of the U.S. Constitution they are also important tools in the government’s campaign to silence opposition to their pro corporate policies. The surveillance state used the information it collected to frame and entrap Food Not Bombs volunteers Jeremy Hammond, Eric McDavid Brandon Baxter and Connor Stevens all of whom are doing a decade or more in prison. The FBI targeted Baxter and Stevens at the Occupy Cleveland kitchen spending tens of thousands of tax dollars to involve them in an FBI May Day Bombing plot designed to make sure we did not occupy as planned. Hammond simply shared information about illegal surveillance by Stratfor with WIkileaks. He faced life in prison but maybe sentenced to ten years having used the threat of never seeing freedom again to force a plea bargain. Eric McDavid did absolutely not one thing that could be considered a crime yet he was sentence to 20 years in prison after the FBI sent an informant Anna to be his girlfriend. After several years volunteering with Food Not Bombs and other activists groups Anna was not able to convince Eric to commit any crime at all so the government had to resort to pitting Eric’s co-defendants against one another using the information of Wren’s love for Eric and the attention Eric paid to Anna and threats of life in prison to suggest Eric was the center of an FBI created bombing plot. The last action they had participated in before their arrest in California was the coordination of the 2005 Food Not Bombs World Gathering in Philadelphia. Anna caused the closing all group meeting to break out into a fight when she announced that the “women at the gathering had not yet dealt with the issues between themselves and their fathers,” a subject not on the agenda which did include future actions of the Food Not Bombs movement, inter group coordination and a rededication to taking nonviolent direct action subjects that were never discussed after her outbreak.
if we do not organize to save our Constitution September 17th might well be remembered as the anniversary of a good idea that was crushed on behalf of protecting corporate power and the government hired to defend the interests of the wealthiest one percent.
This is a great day to reconsider the strategy of Occupation. It is a strategy that had impact during the Great Depression when the Bonus March occupied Washington DC. We have Social Security and many other programs in part because of the power of the Bonus March. In 1989 the Occupation of Tiananmen Square challenged the Chinese authorities sparking years of civil resistance. The Tiananmen Square occupation also inspired the 1989 Tent City Protest at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco forcing the authorities to temporarily end their violent campaign against the homeless. More importantly we learned a lot from that 27 day occupation. Skills we were able to use when we occupied the entrance to George Bush’s Ranch in Crawford, Texas during Camp Casey and our relief efforts after Katrina and Sandy.
After participating in the protests against the World Trade Organization in Cancun, Mexico in September 2003 a group of us meet to critique the action. I was a couple yards away from South Korean farmer Lee Kyang Hae when he stabbed himself to death clinging to a chain linked fence in protest to the policies of the WTO. Hae was president of the South Korea’s Federation of Farmers and Fishermen. “His death is not a personal accident but reflects the desperate fighting of 3.5 million Korean farmers,” said Song Nan Sou, president of the Farmers Management Association. Plain clothes police responded by throwing chances of concrete at us. I ducted under a parked car to avoid being injured. Official labor unions, Mexican and U.S. authorities controlled the protest disempowering many of us. Those of us that met proposed the strategy of occupation. I volunteered to post a website on the strategy.
Many of us had participated in the 1999 protest in Seattle. Rather than blockade the next economic summit we thought we would have more impact organizing occupations in communities all over the world. We could organize democratic communities that provided for the public good providing a contrast to the social order being implemented by the WTO and institutions working for corporate domination.
I offered to encourage support for this strategy. Occupations have proven to be one of the most powerful forms of nonviolent direct action. The economic and political crisis will continue so we have all winter to organize for to reoccupy this May Day. We may wish to have another name for the action and seek to simplify our message but the basic idea could work.
We learned a lot from the last wave of occupations. The government was effective at stopping the re-occupation on May Day 2012 by encouraging the use of violence. The FBI spent the winter implementing a bombing plot in Cleveland, encouraging some of those cooking at Occupy Cleveland to use C-4 on a bridge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund posted internal FBI and Homeland Security memos about the government’s work with corporate security to stop the occupations. I believe we can over come many of the strategies used by the authorities to disrupt the occupations detailed in the internal FBI and Homeland Security memos provided by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
One way may be the formation of affinity groups to reduce the chaos at general assemblies. Another is the adoption of a nonviolence code as we did before the 1999 blockades in Seattle. We can also organize Nonviolence trainings and preparations in communities all across the United States. As author and permaculturalists Starhawk noted in her article “How We Really Shut Down the WTO” she recalls that “Each participant in the action was asked to agree to the nonviolence guidelines: To refrain from violence, physical or verbal; not to carry weapons, not to bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol, and not to destroy property. We were asked to agree only for the purpose of the 11/30 action–not to sign on to any of these as a life philosophy, and the group acknowledged that there is much diversity of opinion around some of these guidelines.”
This made it possible for thousands of us to work in coordination using a process we had all agreed to and practiced during the year before the protest.
We organized the UnFree Trade Tour in 1997 to educate the public about the dangers of the World Trade Organization suggesting a strategy for the nonviolent blockade of the economic summit. Food Not Bombs also formed Indymeda in preparation of the 1995 International Gathering in San Francisco and shared the idea of forming Indymedia Centers or IMCs during a number of tours including the Rent Is Theft and The UnFree Trade Tour. Having IMCs all across the world made it possible to share news of the Seattle Protest breaking corporate media silence. It is interesting to recall that Facebook and other mega corporations used the self publishing code designed by Indymedia to build their empires.
We could start preparing for the next re-occupation of public space as we also remember the successes and failures of Occupy Wall Street. We could start organizing local meetings to form affinity groups and announce plans to hold nonviolent direct action preparations.
I for one can not sit by hopeless as the rights once protected by the U.S. Constitution vanish. This struggle wont be easy but it wasn’t easy for people like Washington and McHenry during the dark days of Valley Forge yet they persevered and provided a guide for future generations moving from the authoritarian rule of kings and queens towards a belief that everyone has the right to determine their own destiny. It would be devastating for our community and the environment if we stood by and allowed a return to dictatorial rule.